Drift

I have the advantage of not even liking what I do. And yet taking a chance is still hard. Link

I think the most important thing I took away from all that time with my nose in happiness research and behavioral econ is that we overestimate the value of what we already have and so underestimate the upside of taking a chance, leaving something behind, and making a big change. Most of us end up where we are through a sort of drift. Sometimes that works out splendidly. And drift hasn’t not worked out for me. I really like what I do. But, alas, I don’t really love it.

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Inside Al Jazeera

Inside Al Jazeera:

The next morning, a Friday, Mohyeldin remembers that the city was silent. “All you could hear was the call to prayer,” he says. “That’s not normal. I mean, there was so much tension,” as well as fear, anxiety, and exhaustion. What form would the final crackdown take? Camels and thugs? Fighter jets? Armed security forces? And how bloody would it be?

Now in the square something amazing appeared: a remake of the Egyptian flag. But in this version, the emblem of the eagle of Saladin had been replaced by the flame of Al Jazeera, the ultimate statement of allegiance by the protesters who felt that whatever may come, they still had their witness.

Mohyeldin got a haircut, lunched at the hotel where the crew was set up, and went upstairs to work. By afternoon, there was an announcement that the presidential council would soon be making a statement. Mohyeldin set up for the live feed. And then there was the vice president, Omar Suleiman, reading a twenty-second statement.

What followed was Al Jazeera’s climactic moment. While the other networks fumbled for meaning and explanation, at first waiting on the Arabic translation, Adrian Finighan, AJE’s presenter in Doha, said simply, “Hosni Mubarak has gone,” and then the network went live to Tahrir Square, panning the exploding crowd for a full seven minutes without voice-over, letting the natural soundscape rise: People cheering, chanting, hugging, crying. People in shock, overcome, praying. That sea of flags, standing now for something new, thrilling, and idealistic, something yet in chrysalis.

When Finighan’s voice returned—”The roar of the crowd says it all…”—he cued the live feed with Mohyeldin. Moments prior, Mohyeldin had made a quick call to his father, the man who had taken his family from Egypt to Detroit, Michigan, in 1984, after the assassination of Anwar Sadat, in search of a better life for his two boys. Mohyeldin had never heard his father, a former military man himself, cry before—but now he cried openly, on the phone. “It’s your generation that did it,” he said.

On-air, Mohyeldin had regained his composure, and to the end, was trying to place the right, carefully considered words atop the images on the screen. When Finighan finally asked him “to stop being impartial for a moment” and explain how he, as an Egyptian, felt, there was a beat of silence, and then a slight cough or laugh, as if he was slightly taken aback. Mohyeldin then rambled a little about the sacrifices made by so many, how the fall of one man had led to the rise of 80 million this night, and after drifting on for a while, he finally allowed himself to slip into first person.

“I never thought I’d live to see a day like this,” he said.

Watching this live is something I will always remember.


We have Always been mediocre at history

Or as the article puts it, “Our amnesia of past ignorance”:

And yet it may be that, while kids aren’t getting better, they’re not getting worse. The history of history-education evaluation is littered with voguish pedagogy, statistical funny business, ideological arm wrestling, a disproportionate emphasis on trivia, and a protocol that insures that each generation of kids looks dim to its elders. “We haven’t ever known our past,” Sam Wineburg, a professor of education and history at Stanford, said last week. “Your kids are no stupider than their grandparents.” He pointed out that the first large-scale proficiency study—of Texas students, in 1915-16—demonstrated that many couldn’t tell Thomas Jefferson from Jefferson Davis or 1492 from 1776. A 1943 survey of seven thousand college freshmen found that, among other things, only six per cent of them could name the original thirteen colonies. “Appallingly ignorant,” the Times harrumphed, as it would again in the face of another dismal showing, in 1976. (And it’s not just Americans: an infamous 2004 survey revealed that a small percentage of Britons aged sixteen to twenty-four believed that the Spanish Armada was vanquished by Gandalf.)

I’m not surprised; Gandalf is a goddamn wizard.

It’s a hard intuition to fight, but there’s no reason for kids to know what you think they should know. The world they grow up in isn’t the same as the world that you (and I) have.